Workers Compensation Amendment Bill 2021
24th November 2021
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (21:13): I feel compelled to contribute to debate on the Workers Compensation Amendment Bill 2021 and to explain why I do not support it. In making a few comments on the bill, I am also speaking on behalf of the member for Sydney—with his permission—and I believe I am reflecting the views of the member for Wagga Wagga.
When this measure was introduced to provide a presumption of protection for workers who contracted COVID-19 they would have been deemed to have caught it in the workplace and, therefore, would have the protection of workers compensation, it was a laudable measure. It was something that the Government should rightly be acknowledged for and congratulated on. I also congratulate the Government on the measures and the way in which it managed the COVID-19 pandemic, which was a major unforeseen impost on the community and the economy. It was taken very seriously. Without making a reflection on the then Treasurer and now Premier that he would not like me to make, as a fiscal conservative, a conservative politician, the way that he faced up to this challenge and basically flipped the paradigm is to his credit. He said, "The budget does not matter in this particular case. We need to face up to this incredible challenge we have before us and we must protect the community and protect workers. We have to keep this economy going." To the Government's credit, it has been extremely successful.
I was somewhat shocked last week when I saw this measure in the bill, not because I did not know that it was coming but because I did not know that it was coming then. The removal of the presumption and how we deal with COVID-19 will bring it back to how we deal with any other seasonal illness such as seasonal flu. I do not think that is being disputed by anybody. We would all love to have a society that was back to where we were pre-COVID, but we are not there; we are just not there. The assumptions are purely speculative about where we will be in the next few months; that frightens me and I know it frightens many workers.
Earlier in the debate a member commented on the rally yesterday in the Domain off Hospital Road that was attended by maybe 50 or 100 people. But it was not 50 or 100 people, it was hundreds of people who were representing thousands of people who were there fighting for their rights. This is an unusual right, but it was a right that was given to them, it was a protection that was given to them and they did not expect it to be removed at this stage. I appreciate that there is an impost on small and I understand that there is an impost on medium-sized business. A reference was made in this debate to clubs that have been impacted and really hurt by COVID.
But now is not the time to do it. Let us allow this to run through until we come back in February and deal with it then when the Government has the empirical data that it needs to say this is what is actually happening and not what the modelling suggests might happen. My concern is that these assumptions are speculative and that the Government has a way to deal with this. The politics of this place are such that members are mindful that the Government is not in a commanding position in the House as far as numbers go. Therefore, I have been in discussion—not initiated by me—with members of the Government about this matter and how it might play out. I appreciate the staff and the Minister speaking with us about just what these provisions are about, but when it came down to it, the member for Sydney, the member for Wagga Wagga and I felt that we could not support the bill.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Ms Sonia Hornery): The member for Lake Macquarie does not require any encouragement.
Mr GREG PIPER: I went to Minister Dominello, a man for whom I have a lot of regard. I spoke quite bluntly to him about the position that we were put in for the Government to ask whether or not we could support this bill based on the numbers that the Government had. I understand that. It is politics 101: Do not bring something to the floor if you cannot win. That is how it used to be played, anyway. I suggested to the Minister that I did not think that it was necessarily that clear-cut. But I suggested to him that maybe he should look at withdrawing it. I think I am being totally honest in what I am saying. I said, "You should withdraw it. Bring it back to us in February. You will have empirical data. You will have the time to speak with employee representatives and employer groups and you will have a much better understanding of people's views on this. And you know what? You probably would have no problem getting all the crossbench to support this provision then."
I will put on the record why I will not support the bill. I am very disappointed and perhaps I am being a little precious about this, but I am very disappointed that my good faith advice to the Minister was rejected without him coming back to me. I was disappointed in that because I really gave that advice in all good faith for the good of the Government, which is facing upcoming by-elections, but also for the good of the workers who have anxiety about what will happen in this case. It is not a hard decision for me. It is not a hard decision for Mr Greenwich and it is not a hard decision for Dr McGirr. While I have heard lost of rhetoric from opponents, I understand it. This is their bread and butter, representing the workers. This is what the Australian Party does, but they are not on their own. They stand with everyone, bar two, of the crossbench members. I will not support the bill. I hope that it is defeated and that we can come back in the new year after we have had a proper conversation about this.
Website: Read full Parliamentary debate